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Unlikely Alliance of Natives and Farmers, Cowboys and Indians

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Back before the American Revolution, the Mohawks in New York saw these people come to work and settle along the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. They were Palatine Germans, or Mennonites, or Amish, religious and poor Germans who fled war and were not exactly welcome in England so they ended up in NY (also PA and NJ) as a frontier buffer, for the richer, already established Dutch and English. The Mohawk (and Iroquois) may have needed to conduct Treaty making with the European settlers but they did not have to with these peaceful religious farmers. These peaceful farmers would end up producing descendants who would figure prominently in American life; and the Mohawks ended up allowing in Catholic and Protestant missionaries which would divide us. But for a time, Natives and settlers lived side by side as geo-political events swirled around them. Now days it is truly amazing that the religious zealots who represent a twisted Tea Party Politic and an American Taliban Theocracy claim to be Christians yet act devoid of Christian charity and teachings.

Some statements I take directly from the Community Rights Movement, because I don’t think they’d mind. We must look at making alliances with our neighbors and settler communities because they now know what it’s like to be Native in America and beset by entities that would be considered enemies of the people back in American Revolutionary times, corporations, banks, money-lenders, speculators, foreign agents, who have purchased influence from the highest offices in the land. You see, your local, state or federal government will not protect you. That’s because those governments have been taken over by other interests, mainly corporate interests. You know that because when there are important issues and problems in your community caused by a major player, a business, industry or corporation and you attempt to deal with them, you are told by the governments that there’s nothing they can do. There are laws and regulations already in place and that only the states and feds can legislate laws to regulate a business and its practices.

Your community is told, threatened actually, that if you pass your own laws then the corporations can leave town with their jobs to go elsewhere, or they will sue you for violating the corporation’s “constitutional rights.” Further threats declare that your community could then be held liable not just for the cost of the corporation’s lawyers, but also for potential future corporate profits lost as a result of the law’s adoption.

Now there are “Unlikely Alliances” sprouting up from the grassroots all around America: Natives and farmers and ranchers, Cowboys and Indians, environmentalists and conservationists, are taking up the challenge and are confronting those who would poison their land, air and water, while offering money and jobs for the short term, with no concept of what will come to pass from their exploitations and developments. Profits uber alles is their motto. The people, red and white and black and brown and yellow, from the four directions, from the center of the earth, are standing up because there is no place left to go. Now they know what it’s like to be Native in America; as Russell Means said, Welcome to the Reservation.

In New Mexico, Mora County attempted to ban not only fracking but all oil and gas drilling, and the ban was over-turned, as it “banned everything”, a sympathetic critic said. The oil industry has power down in southern NM, which is Governor Susana Martinez's power base, but they know they face strong opposition in northern NM (home of the Tierra Amarilla Uprising in 1967) so perhaps compromise is imminent.

The Community Rights Movement started in early 2000’s when small, rural Wells Township in central Pennsylvania banned corporate factory hog farms (and their toxic waste) from their community.

A couple of years later, several New Hampshire and Maine towns banned Nestle and other corporations from extracting water for bottling operations. (So Nestle moved to drought-stricken California?) In 2010, the City of Pittsburgh adopted a law which prohibited fracking for shale gas within its boundaries. Since then images of small mouth bass with huge cancerous tumors caught in the Susquehanna River went viral; and days ago the Chevron Corporation paid a $939,553 fine for a fatal 2014 explosion at one of its Pennsylvania gas wells that may be the largest amount paid for a single incident. If outrage can take hold In Pennsylvania, it can take hold anywhere in this country. 

In the Pacific Northwest, Native nations are using their treaty rights to fight plans for coal and oil trains, because shipping and burning fossil fuels threatens their fisheries. NW Native Nations were opposed by fishing groups that protested Treaty Rights, but now some of them view the tribes as the only government that is willing to protect and restore critical fish habitat from harmful development and climate change. Local environmental groups are partnering with the Lummi Nation and the Quinault Nation to oppose plans for Bakken crude oil terminals that threaten salmon and shellfish harvesting. Washington tribes have joined with British Columbia First Nations to oppose oil pipelines from the Alberta Tar Sands, as Columbia River Basin tribes try to block loads of equipment being shipped to Alberta.

Northern Cheyenne tribal members are leading a movement to stop the proposed Otter Creek coal mine in Montana, at the other end of the of the rail line from Washington state. They have been joined by white ranchers in the Tongue River Valley, just like they were in the 1970s when they used tribal environmental laws to slow down the first round of coal development.

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Bad River Ojibwe in Wisconsin were joined by non-Native neighbors to fight iron ore mining, after white sportsmen who protested Obijwe treaty rights to spear fish discovered that these Native treaty rights could legally oppose the mining plans, eventually stopping the proposed Crandon copper-zinc mine.

The Black Hills Alliance halted uranium mining plans in the early 1980s, as Lakota tribal members and white ranchers joined to protect their groundwater; and since the uranium companies have returned in the 2010s, it has been reborn as the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance. These alliances previously stopped a coal railroad and a Depleted Uranium munitions testing range.

The Keystone XL fight is underway in Nebraska as the pipeline company TransCanada tried to buy off some ranchers and farmers by moving the KXL route away from their lands. But the “Unlikely Alliances” continue as white farmers and ranchers who oppose eminent domain seizures ended up talking with tribes to fight the pipeline, protect their property and protect the Lakota sacred sites on these same lands “stolen from the tribes.” Nebraska ranchers actually said they, “finally understand how you feel having your land taken away”.

The Cowboy Indian Alliance remains an “Unlikely Alliance” between once-rivals over the same land but has now become a way to build connections between these land-based communities. Ihanktonwan Nakota elder Faith Spotted Eagle, a leader in past and current alliances to protect treaty lands, says, “We come from two cultures that clashed over land, and so this is a healing for the generations.” Faith Spotted Eagle says this awareness and these alliances can begin the process of decolonizing Native lands and shifting white hearts and minds. Spotted Eagle has emerged as a leader of these “Unlikey Alliances” of Native Americans, landowners and grass-roots groups seeking to block the Keystone XL in South Dakota. She is a proponent and a teacher of her Red Rage therapy, which has identified Historical Trauma among Native Americans especially on reservations. I paraphrase her by saying: “Now we know why we are all angry, so let’s channel it properly, for the good of the land and the next generations.”

Keystone supporters are troubled it’s taken so long, they wonder if they will reap any promised rewards as they can only declare that: TransCanada swears up and down that if there’s any leaks or damage to the land, ‘We will take care of that.’ Politicians don’t understand their own constituencies but are satisfied with TransCanada’s assurances that the pipeline would be safe, as they pocket donations to their political campaigns.

A politician’s jobs these days is to schmooze the rich and get that money into their campaign coffers so they can get re-elected, and that doesn’t leave them much time left to do their real job, which is to represent all the people and not just the few. That’s where the Community Rights Movement comes in to remind who they are supposed to represent. CRM calls this brand of activism, “collective, non-violent civil disobedience through municipal lawmaking”. They are using the “rule of law” against those that have twisted the system to favor the rich and the connected.

The Community Rights Movement points to language that was written into almost all state constitutions, over two hundred years ago, like Pennsylvania’s, which declares:

"All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness. For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper."

Some of those Palatine Germans were there in Pennsylvania when those words were written and some Native Americans were there observing silently in the back wondering what will happen next in their country. Well, maybe now we will see what the People think is proper and right.

Alex Jacobs, Mohawk, is a visual artist and poet living in Santa Fe.